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Kentucky retreat helps veterans battling their own mental health

Sailors commemorate Veterans Day at Fleet Activities Yokosuka.
Sailors commemorate Veterans Day at Fleet Activities Yokosuka.(Flickr: United States Navy)
Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 10:36 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 11, 2021 at 2:02 AM EDT
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SHEPERDSVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Many veterans struggle to adjust to life back at home after taking part in America’s longest war in Afghanistan.

According to the Defense Department, more than 800,000 American troops served in the 20-year conflict. At least 2,365 servicemembers died, the most recent being the 13 on Aug. 26 at the Kabul airport.

Don Barbiea, an Air Force veteran who served seven tours in Afghanistan, starting with Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, reflected on the attack. He said he couldn’t watch the news after being in the Middle East.

“I put over 50 caskets on planes while I was there, in and out,” Barbiea said. “I knew the whole thing that was happening, with them getting to come home. It just started to play back in my mind”

As a civil engineer, Barbiea helped build the security infrastructure like what was at the airport. He said that the recent deaths opened many conflicting feelings.

“I had so many thoughts going through my head,” Barbiea said. “Just the fact that we lost them — I felt like we kind of lost them for no reason.”

Barbiea was diagnosed with combat PTSD when he returned from Afghanistan and said he found himself taking 30 medications a day to stay mentally afloat. Triggers included crowds and loud noises, which made maintaining meaningful relationships impossible. All of that changed two years ago, when he first arrived at Active Heroes, a veteran’s retreat in Shepherdsville.

“I can find peace out here,” Barbiea said. “As soon as I pull onto that gravel, all my stress is gone,”

The retreat, built in 2019, serves as a place where veterans and their families can heal from the trauma of war. It serves as a safe space for people to share their experiences and receive support.

Active Heroes Executive Director Pat Fox said that the best way to heal from war is to engage with the community.

“Get out, enjoy what you can,” Fox said. “Do what you can here. Continue to enjoy your family.”

Active Heroes hosts several events throughout the year, including a 5K run, a golf scramble and Huey helicopter rides on Oct. 2.

Bariea’s advice to veterans is to focus on what they did well.

“When you’re a soldier, airman, or sailor — you did your job,” Barbiea said. “You did your job. You did it right, and be proud of it. Just know that there are other people out there that are willing to help.”

Veterans or those who have veterans in their family that may benefit from working with Active Heroes, click or tap here.

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